So in order to tell this story, I have to first admit to liking Big Macs.
I like Big Macs. There.
Now that we got that out of the way — I was waiting to order at my local McDonald’s during the lunch rush today when I saw a sign I’d never seen above the intercom. It said “60 Second Service Guarantee” — if you have to wait longer than 60 seconds between paying and getting your food, you get a free item from the Dollar Menu. Looking at the line ahead of me and behind me, I was starting to think I’d hit the jackpot as the world’s newest Dollar Menunnaire.
Once I ordered, I pulled to the first window to pay. As I was digging for my card, someone thrust a tiny plastic hourglass into my car and shouted, “HERE.” It was already counting down with a flurry of sand falling from top to bottom.
The race was on.
With about half the sand left, it was my turn to pull forward. I joked to myself that it would be funny to sandbag for a few seconds and creep up to the window, but I’m an honest guy, so I kept up with the line. Just as I was getting there, two cars beside me were locked in a dispute over a parking space. One car was so close that it prevented me from pulling up all the way. When I looked at the employee dangling my Big Mac meal out the window, there was a look of sheer terror on her face.
“WE’RE NOT GOING TO MAKE IT,” she thought.
That’s when she went into crisis mode. You’d think she was watching children run into traffic. She started frantically waving her arms at the drivers in the lot, screaming, “EXCUSE ME! HEY! HEY!” Then she glanced back at the hourglass resting on my door as more precious sand came cascading down.
MacGyver was probably under less pressure diffusing bombs with his trusty paper clip.
Finally, I made it to the window with seconds to spare. The clearly frustrated employee reached into my car, grabbed my hourglass, shoved my food through the window and said, “THANKSCOMEBACK.”
That’s it, I was dead to her. I just sat there. The panic began to set in again.
“WHY AREN’T YOU MOVING? GET OUT OF THE WAY!” she silently screamed with her glare.
“May I have some ketchup?” I calmly asked.
She all but threw the ketchup at me without a word.
Ten minutes later, as I finished fishing for the stray lettuce shreds that always fall out of a Big Mac, I was reflecting on the whole experience. I’m sure most people don’t go to McDonald’s for five-star service, but they really screwed up with this gimmick.
Plenty of folks (me included) are in a hurry on their lunch hours. Quick service helped put McDonald’s on the map, and nobody likes to wait in long lines. But in a rush to incentivize efficiency during peak hours, McDonald’s has completely deincentivized courteous, attentive service. Employees are terrified of being the person who costs the restaurant a free item, so they herd customers through like cattle to protect their zero-fail record.
In the end, I was happy to get my food in such short order, but if I’m being honest, I would’ve gladly waited another minute for the same burger if it meant a more pleasant experience.
Prompt service quickly loses its appeal when the tradeoff is poor service — and McDonald’s shouldn’t mortgage 60 years of brand equity for a cheap 60-second trick.